A mini-honey moon
Time to say goodbye to my family and friends in the Uk and slowly begin to head back to Japan, but on the way we're stopping off in Prague for a few days. Prague is a city I have a bit of a history with, but Haru has never visited it.
We arrive in the early afternoon and get picked up by the hotel taxi at the airport. As we drive I'm surprised how much I can still understand on the radio and from the signs we zip past. My very basic knowledge of Slavic languages is being kicked back into life. Suddenly the driver pulls an intersting manoeuvre and starts reversing, at a reasonable speed, down a narrow road on a steep hill. This is a slavic style short cut, we're now going the wrong way down a one way street, but by reversing the driver can switch to going the 'right' way at any moment and avoid trouble (in theory). I don't think you'd get that in Japan, but he does get us to the hotel in one piece and in good time.
By the time we've checked in and freshened up a bit, it's getting dusky already. Our hotel is located on the old town side of the river though, and it's close to a lot of the really famous sights so we head out for an evening stroll. Charles Bridge is just at the bottom of the hill so I take Haru there to her a first taste of classic Prague.
After a good nights sleep we're up bright and early (well, before lunch anyway) and ready to explore. The hotel is located just a couple of minutes below the castle district, so that's where we're going first.
The castle district is actually a lot more than just a castle, it's the heart of what would once have been the old town and one of the most prominent buildings there is the wonderful gothic cathedral.
Both inside and out it is a really impressive piece of work. It still stands in the centre of the old square surrounded by complimentary architechture, unlike St. Paul's or Westminster in London, so it's easy to imagine how this scene may have looked long ago when this was still a walled medieval town.
One of the most famous spots in the castle district is Golden Lane, a narrow street full of small houses muddled in the space between the square and the defensive outer wall. This area was once home to many craftsman including the goldsmiths from which it gets it's name.
These days the old houses either are either preserved exhibits of how they used to be, or are craft shops in the tradition of the street. For example, the blue house on the top left is now a second hand book shop trading on that fact that famous Czech writer Franz Kafka once lived there.
Deeper in the walls and under the floors there is rather dark trend towards arms, alchemy and torture in the rooms you come across. A stark reminded that a world lit only by fire was capable of casting some dark and twisted shadows.
We really enjoyed exploring around this area and ended our tour of the castle district with a look at the Old Royal Palace. A wonderful building full of immense halls and fantastic vaulted ceilings, I love the sense of space and awe inspired by these kind of designs and really enjoyed this building. I also liked the story of how the citizens of Prague used to deal with politicians who failed to meet their expectations -
- see that window on the on the top right above the wall? Well, they threw three politicians out of that for a start. Amazingly none of them sustained any serious injuries on the way down.
After leaving the Old Royal Palace we slowly made our way down to the river, taking our time to explore some of the small backstreets and winding stairways as we went.
Eventually we came down to the river and had a great view of Charles bridge upstream.
Eventually, all streets in Prague seem to lead back to the main square, with its famous Astrological clock, where almost every conceivable type of tour is on offer to the multitude of tourists. Do you want to see Prague by land train, classic car, segway, hot-air balloon, boat or (the most photogenic) horse and cart.
We're already planning to spend some more time around the square, and really explore this side of the river, tomorrow. So for now we content ourselves with a quick look around before picking up our reserved tickets and going to check out one of Prague's several black light theatres (bottom right below).
The basic principle behind black light theatre is that performers wear costumes that are partly as black as the backdrop, and partly coloured in a way that is picked up by UV lights. In this way they can create some interesting effects and quite surreal scenes. As you might expect of an art form conceived mainly to get tourist bums on seats it's light and entertaining, but overpriced.
By the time we came out of the theatre it was getting dark and rainy. Time to head back to the hotel for the night, luckily Prague is one of those places that for a visitor is actually quite pretty in the rain. Sharing an umbrella, holding hands and crossing Charles bridge in a summer shower is really quite romantic.
Of course it wouldn't stay romantic if it just rained all the time so we we're happy to see that by the morning it had cleared up and was promising to be another lovely day. We had a lot of ground to cover today and our first call was to the senate gardens below the castle. Many of the features here are typical of a nice formal garden, such as the fountains, lawns and statues. Even peacocks are quite common in such places, but never before have I seen an albino peacock like the one we saw here. Such a beautiful creature.
There was also a rather interesting grotesque wall, man made but created to look like quite natural until you notice hidden faces and creatures in it's folds.
Today though we're heading over the river again to take a look around the new town.
The main objective today isn't any famous sight, it's finding a branch of the bank I used in Slovakia when I lived there, and finally closing my bank accounts; they won't let me do it by post. To be honest this was the biggest single reason for stopping in Prague at all, and when we finally find a branch of CSOB bank it's like a kick in the head being told that the Czech and Slovak banks (despite having the same name, logo and parent company) are separate and I still can't touch my accounts. Meaning I still have a few thousand pounds sitting in account in Slovakia, that I cannot access in any way, shape or form. F**k!
Shaking off the disappointment as much as possible, we head back down to the main square for a less rushed look around and some shopping. We're also in good time to see the astrological clock striking the hour today, cogs whirr and mechanisms click into life and as the clock chimes a pararde of wooden saints wheel past small windows and a grinning reaper tolls a bell.
We are already tired. Yesterday most of what we saw was contained in quite compact area, but today we've walked much further. However, there's still time to cross back over Charles bridge and take in some of the streets that follow along the riverside (we even managed to find the Japanese Embassy much to Haru's delight).
We agree that we'll return and explore the riverside more tomorrow (our last day) and head back to the hotel to rest up for a while. Despite having seen a lot of nice things today, we both agree that the castle district yesterday was more impressive. So, having rested we decide it'd be nice to go and see the area by night as it's so close to the hotel. This turns out to be a great idea, not only is it the atmosphere totally different at night, but the crowds are gone as well, giving us almost the whole cathedral square to sit by ourselves and soak up the ambiance.
The next day I leave Haru in the hotel and head out on business again, after the disappointment with the bank I've decided to try going to the Slovak embassy thinking that they could help me get some official proof of identity acceptable by the bank to verify postal instructions... well, I got a paper, but the bank still won't accept it. B****rds!
Anyway, we did a lot of walking yesterday, and I thought this would be a pretty dull walk in a more residential area of the town, but in the end the route took me behind the castle and presented some nice views that I regretted Haru missing.
Hurrying back to the hotel as soon as possible we decide to pick up where we left off yesterday, down by the riverside. On the way I'm snapping pictures of address stones that I was reading about in the guide book last night, markers that served as physical addresses for illiterates. So your address might be, the baker under the three fiddles, or the apothocary under the golden snake. Spotting these old stones, or shops that still bear their names is quite interesting.
We're not following the guide book today, just exploring, and the first thing we find is the John Lennon memorial wall. The Beatles are still popular in this part of the world, and here fans can come and remember and pay their respects to the late, great John Lennon in their own way.
We want to take it a bit easier today, so we decide to hop on one of the many tour boats running up and down the river. Which provides not only another perspective, but also a welcome break from all the footwork of the last two days.
Refreshed, we have just enough time to explore one last riverside park, before returning to the hotel.
That's it, we have to pack and jump back into a taxi for the airport. We have a long flight back to Japan ahead of us.
The honeymoon is over!